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How to Protect Yourself From Bacterial Meningitis

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Guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck died earlier this month at the age of 78 after contracting bacterial meningitis. An influential musician since the 1960s as a member of the English band the Yardbirds and front man of the Jeff Beck Group, his sudden death came as a shock to his fans, family and friends and reminds us that anyone can contract bacterial meningitis.

Hearing about Jeff Beck’s death leaves many asking questions about bacterial meningitis. How common is it? Is it curable? What are the symptoms? And how can we protect ourselves? We’re here to answer those questions so you can stay as safe and healthy as possible.

What is Bacterial Meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis can occur when germs get into the tissues, or the meninges, surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Then, the infection around the brain can cause inflammation and swelling that disrupts how the brain functions.

Many types of germs can cause meningitis. There is viral meningitis, which is serious, but not as deadly or transmissible as bacterial meningitis.

Bacterial meningitis can be spread in a variety of ways. Group B Streptococcus and E. coli bacteria can be passed from mother to baby during birth. Bacteria that can be passed to others by coughing or sneezing include Haemophilus influenzae, Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Streptococcus pneumoniae, while Neisseria meningitidis bacteria is spread by sharing saliva, coughing or living in close contact with someone who has it.

Not everyone who has the bacteria that causes meningitis gets sick. Some people carry these germs without knowing it. These individuals are called “carriers” because they can still get others sick.

How Common is Bacterial Meningitis?

Getting sick from bacterial meningitis is on the rare side. According to the CDC, people with certain medical conditions, such as HIV infection or serious immune deficiency, those who don’t have spleens and patients on chemotherapy, are more likely to contract bacterial meningitis.

Those who are run down, live in or travel to certain areas, are at higher risk than the general population. For example, bacterial meningitis cases are sometimes seen in college students who live in close quarters in their dorms with other students, children in summer camps and travelers to sub-Saharan Africa. People in these groups should be extra careful to take precautions against the illness.

While it is rare and has been declining since the 1990s, bacterial meningitis is a severe, dangerous illness that can be accompanied by sepsis, or blood poisoning. While it can be cured with prompt and aggressive treatment, meningitis can cause permanent disability and has a high risk of death associated with it.

What are the Symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis?

Death can occur within hours of contracting bacterial meningitis. Typically, symptoms begin within 3 to 7 days of exposure. With treatment, 10 to 15 percent of bacterial meningitis cases leads to death. If you or someone close to you experiences the following symptoms, especially with a sudden onset, seek urgent medical care:

  • Confusion
  • Eye sensitivity
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Stiff neck
  • Vomiting

When a patient has bacterial meningitis, they will be treated with several powerful antibiotics. Getting treatment as quickly as possible is vital. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed to people who were in close contact with the patient to prevent them from getting sick, too. This is call prophylaxis.

How Can Bacterial Meningitis be Prevented?

Vaccines are the most effective way to protect against certain types of bacterial meningitis. The CDC recommends the vaccines for four types of bacteria that can cause illness from bacterial meningitis:

  • Meningococcal vaccines help protect against N. meningitidis
  • Pneumococcal vaccines help protect against S. pneumoniae
  • Haemophilus influenzae serotype b (Hib) vaccines help protect against Hib
  • Bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccine helps protect against tuberculosis disease, but is not widely used in the United States

Make sure you and your family are vaccinated as the best defense against bacterial meningitis, and check in with your health care provider to see if it’s time for a booster.

Living a healthy lifestyle with a nutritious diet, plenty of rest, regular exercise, vitamins and not smoking can help buffer you against getting sick from bacterial meningitis along with your vaccinations. Also, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water often and avoid people who show signs of illness.

Stay Well Ahead With Primary Care+

Vaccines are especially important for fighting meningitis because the bacteria that cause meningitis can build up a resistance to antibiotics.

Find a provider or schedule an appointment with yours at AdventHealth Primary Care+ get up to date on your vaccines. We want you to stay well in body, mind and spirit.

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